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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

The UN and Disarmament: Remarks by the Secretary-General

'Secretary-General says persistence of conflicts since fall of Berlin Wall necessitates review of international disarmament mechanisms,' United Nations Press Release SG/SM/6489, 17 March 1998

Editor's note: the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, addressed his remarks to the thirtieth session of the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters in Geneva.

Full text

"It gives me great pleasure to join you for this thirtieth session of the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. The Board is a valuable think-tank, a rich blend of diplomats and scholars, and I am grateful to be able to call on your collective experience.

I should like to recognize a number of colleagues who are here today:

  • Ambassador André Erdös [of Hungary], who will chair the sessions of the Board in 1998;
  • Ambassador Mitsuro Donowaki [of Japan], who performed admirably as Chairman of the Board's last session;
  • Mr. Vladimir Petrovsky, who, as you know, serves as Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament;
  • Dr. Patricia Lewis, who began her assignment as Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research last October. She faces the challenge of upholding UNIDIR's tradition of high-quality research while working with a greatly reduced pool of human and financial resources;
  • And the most recent addition to my senior management team, Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, who has joined me as Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs. I have also appointed him as a Commissioner of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) with responsibility for the special group that will conduct entries into presidential sites in Iraq under the Memorandum of Understanding agreed during my recent mission to Baghdad and subsequently endorsed by the Security Council.

Recent events in Iraq show the United Nations at work in many ways: as an impartial voice for the peaceful resolution of disputes; as a provider of humanitarian assistance; and as a peacekeeper along the Iraq-Kuwait border. But the core of the multifaceted involvement in Iraq is disarmament: the efforts of the United Nations Special Commission, in tandem with the International Atomic Energy Agency, to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to neutralize a grave threat to international peace and security.

So the Board is meeting at a time when the attention of the world is focused on disarmament issues with particular intensity. Let us make the most of this moment to advance the disarmament agenda on all fronts, from weapons of mass destruction to small arms.

As you know, the re-establishment of a Department for Disarmament Affairs under an Under-Secretary-General was a key element of the programme of reform I have put in place since taking office. It derives from my vision of the disarmament work of the Organization, a vision which places disarmament at the centre of our mission of peace and development. That work has four main components.

First are preventive disarmament measures, such as dialogue and transparency, which build confidence.

The Register of Conventional Arms is one such measure. The Register keeps track of international transfers of major conventional weapons systems; it is a spotlight designed to help avoid costly and destabilizing arms build-ups. All major arms suppliers and most recipient States now participate. Regional forums such as the Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa can assist in formulating other preventive measures. Interest in such cooperation and dialogue is growing. The Organization of American States, for example, recently adopted a treaty banning illicit trafficking in firearms.

A second element of our disarmament work is norm-setting. The United Nations plays a crucial role through deliberative bodies, such as the First Committee and Disarmament Commission, and the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, the Conference on Disarmament.

The Organization also actively supports efforts to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which is the core of the non-proliferation regime, and negotiations on a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. It closely cooperates with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. And it has taken on additional tasks in the international community's struggle to ban anti-personnel mines, most recently under the new Ottawa Convention.

A third component consists of practical measures carried out in post-conflict settings. These include disarming former combatants and reintegrating them into civil society, and cleaning up the remnants of weapons. In Mali, a request for assistance in the collection of arms several years back, an effort renowned for the great bonfire of arms two years ago in Timbuktu, has developed into an integrated security and development project.

And fourth, we engage in post-conflict enforcement of disarmament to ensure that hostilities do not arise again. The work in Iraq under the auspices of the Security Council exemplifies this work. I have offered this short survey not just to underline the variety of United Nations disarmament activities, but to ask the Board to examine how this work is carried out and whether it can be done more effectively and efficiently.

You have a full agenda here in Geneva. I would welcome your views about streamlining and making more effective the work of the First Committee and Disarmament Commission, and how to bridge the gap between the views on the agenda, objectives and dates for convening a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.

I urge you to give some thought to the situation in the Conference on Disarmament, which is searching for ways to continue the process of negotiating disarmament agreements. The Conference's potential in this regard remains a source of hope. The Conference deserves our support and I encourage its members, no matter how painstaking the process may be, to persevere in their efforts.

You will also be hearing from Under-Secretary-General Dhanapala about his vision for the Department for Disarmament Affairs. And as you assess his reorganization plans, perhaps it is only fair that the Board also take a hard look at its own work.

Before I close, let me offer you this thought. Since the Berlin Wall came down, 4 million people have died in armed conflicts. A figure like that should, it seems to me, make us look at how effective the international community's disarmament mechanisms are, not as an intellectual exercise, but with a view to making the United Nations better able to prevent conflict. If it cannot manage that, then the Organization must do everything possible to limit the damage and foster national reconciliation and reconstruction once the conflict is over. That - no more, no less - is what disarmament is all about.

It is up to us to make the extra effort to turn this planet into a more peaceful, a safer and a more prosperous place. I wish you every success in your work."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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